Raptors coach opens up about last season's painful defeat in the playoffs, solid additions made to the roster and more
POSTED: Jul 18, 2015 11:49 AM ET
Dwane Casey is hopeful the additon of DeMarre Carroll will drastically improve Toronto's defense.
The 2014-15 Toronto Raptors started the season 24-7 and finished it by getting swept in the first round of the playoffs. They fell apart defensively after Thanksgiving and also had offensive issues in the postseason.
There were questions about Dwane Casey's job after his team performed so poorly against the Washington Wizards, but Casey is back for a fifth season on the Toronto bench, and he's been given some help. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri did work in free agency, signing free agents DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo to reshape the roster.
Considering how much the Raptors' defense fell off last season - they went from ninth in defensive efficiency in 2013-14 to 23rd in '14-15 - Carroll was a big get. The Raptors offered him $60 million on July 1 and he quickly canceled his meetings with other teams. It would be a good guess to say that he'll be Casey's favorite player before long.
The Raptors did lose some pieces of their rotation as Ujiri made a bigger impact on the roster than he did a year ago. Greivis Vasquez was traded to Milwaukee, while Amir Johnson and Lou Williams signed with the Celtics and Lakers, respectively.
Before the Raptors' final Summer League game on Friday, NBA.com spoke with Casey about what went wrong last season and how things might change this year.
Q: How tough was it for last season to end the way it did?
Dwane Casey: Very difficult. Painful. But everywhere I've been -- in Seattle, we flamed out a few years before we got to The Finals -- you got to go through something to get there. We did the same thing in Dallas. Everybody had written us off there.
We're not on that level with our program in Toronto yet. We're still growing. But I thought what we went through last year, even though it was painful, was what we needed. It was a dose of reality for us as a staff, for our players, and for everybody involved.
We're in a tough spot, where the next step is difficult. And we weren't ready for that last year.
Q: You guys added some defensive players this summer. How much do you think you can improve on that end of the floor?
DC: It's going to help us, with the fact that DeMarre Carroll can guard his position. We've been getting by with Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan, who are really twos, playing the three and physically trying to go against bigger threes. Whether it's been on the boards or guarding them, it's been a challenge for those guys. I thought they did an admirable job two years ago, but it took a toll on us this past year, offensively and defensively.
DeMarre gives us some size and physicality at that position. And Cory Joseph is a solid defender. He gives us a little juice, a little size, speed and quickness. He comes from a winning program, so his pedigree is good.
Biyombo gives us some rim protection behind everybody. And Scola gives us a veteran IQ to make plays with the ball, a decent pick-and-roll guy at the four position.
Q: What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?
DC: Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out.
They made our big guys make plays. So a big emphasis this summer for them is learning how to play out of blitzes on the pick-and-roll, when they're taking the ball out of DeMar's and Kyle's hands. They got to make plays and burn them if they're going to bring two to the ball. We didn't do a good job of that in the playoffs.
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Q: How do the roster changes help in that regard?
DC: The guys we added are system-type guys. Lou is one of the top iso players in the league. I wouldn't be very smart if I didn't utilize that, and we did. We got criticized for it and sometimes that style of play doesn't translate in the playoffs.
But I think you got to have a balance, because some systems get bogged down in the playoffs also. That's what we're shooting for this year, to get a balance between having a guy that can break down a defense and get his own shot, as well as ball movement and body movement, which is what all coaches are striving for.
Q: So DeMar can still be who he is in a system that moves the ball more?
DC: Right. DeMar is who he is. He's a guy that plays in the low post, can play with the basketball, but he's also a coachable player. He knows that moving the basketball is what's best for the team.
But too, he's one of the top mid-range scorer's in the league. That's his game and it's on us to incorporate that within a system of ball movement and get some continuity. But as a coach, you do need the guy, at the end of the clock or in a tough situation where you need a bucket, that can create his own shot.
Q: Is there some additional urgency this season, given that you didn't take the expected step forward last year?
DC: We were ahead of schedule. When we traded Rudy [Gay, in December of 2013], everybody expected us to take a step back. But before we could make more roster changes, we took a step up.
We're still a rebuilding team. Adding the guys we got now is huge. It looks good on paper, but we got to get it together in October. I like the pieces we brought in, especially defensively, the toughness. It's going to be a great shot in the arm for us, for our program.
Like I've always said, that next step is a big step. To go from the middle to the top is one of the most difficult things you can do in sports.
Toronto Raptors Free Agency Grade
Being the highest paid player on the Raps, is DeMarre Carroll overpaid?
Q: But what does it say about what you've built here that you were able to get Carroll? Sought-after free agents don't often leave their teams for Toronto.
DC: It was great for us to get that piece for our program, to get that small forward that's played on a high level, for him to choose Toronto and cancel some of his other meetings. We went hunting with a big stick, so that helped. Masai did a good job of selling the program.
It was what we needed. We had to prioritize, like everybody else did. Our priority was a small forward to go with the other pieces we have.
Q: What was your pitch to Carroll when you met with him?
DC: We need you. You're a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly.
He's a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch. I love his story, that he's a self-made player. If said six years ago that DeMarre Carroll would be one of the top players in the league, nobody would have believed you. But he's made himself into that player. That's my kind of guy and our kind of guy.
Q: Is there still a big role for Jonas Valanciunas in the way that you want to play and in the way the league is going? How can you use him, but also make up for his deficiencies when he's on the floor?
DC: The league is going smaller, but as long as the goal is at 10 feet, size is going to matter. You still got to have size.
At the end of games, the trend is to go smaller. Threes are fours, fours are fives, and your roster has to fit that. Adding DeMarre gives us that flexibility. He can play some at the four, with Scola or Patrick Patterson at the five. We're better equipped to play that way now than we were a year ago.
The league is going to their more skilled guys toward the end of games. Trends come and go, but right now, we have to participate in that trend.
Q: Has Terrence Ross hit a ceiling?
DC: I don't think so. What a lot of people don't understand is that he had a lot of stuff in his ankle. He had that taken out this spring. He played through it last year. Whether that was why he took a dip defensively, I don't know. I tell everybody that he was our best defensive wing player two years ago, and we were pretty good.
He's got to get back to that level more so than with his shooting. But I don't think he's hit a slump. He didn't take that next big step. He hasn't forgot how to shoot. Even with one leg, he was shooting this morning. So we're looking for big things out of him and this is a big year for him, career-wise.
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